3D printing food? The key question here is why would you want to? You can certainly use a 3D printer to “pipe” food into interesting shapes or designs. Bakeries have been doing this for a couple of years now. It’s great for parties and events.
NASA and the military are looking into 3D printing food to solve some of their supply logistics issues, and other people hope 3D printers could help solve world hunger. If NASA were to succeed in developing a 3D printer that actually doesn’t need material supplied to it first, it would have benefited fictional astronaut Watney from the movie The Martian. But so far, NASA is still exploring.
The key problem is the material. No 3D printer in existence today converts molecules and atoms into combinations that become meat, or tomato, or parsnips and so on. That’s chemistry. 3D printers do not have that capability yet.
Thus, NASA, the military and those who want to help third world hunger must still supply the material to the printer. That still involves growing it in the ground or slaughtering it after its been born and raised.
3D printing food sounds so cool, but it adds steps to the entire supply chain, making it a non-efficient way to solve food problems.
For example, you must first grow a potato in the ground. There is no other way to get a potato. Then you must peel the potato, cook it, and then mash it up. During the mash, you might combine it with other ingredients for flavor or to make it pipe through an extruder nozzle easily. Then you must feed it to the extruder so that the extruder can lay down layers of this mash-based material. The process will be the same for vegetables, meats, and breads.
For NASA and others, they must figure out how to transport the extruder ready material to its final destination. Chances are this will involve bags, maybe drums, or maybe some liquid form. This means weight. Not only must you carry a 3D printer, you must also carry the bags or drums or other containers. In essence, this step is not that much different from what is already being done. So where’s the advantage of 3D printing food?
Don’t forget, in environments without readily available power (like Mars or some military locations) the 3D printer will still need to be powered. NASA will likely use solar or some type of battery. Same for the military. For third world countries, the best source of power will probably be solar. Solar run 3D printers are more in the maker community now.
If NASA comes up with an interesting way to solve the above problems, though, it will be an amazing feat.